Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Another round on the “elephant curve”

A report from the Resolution Foundation has touched off another round of analysis of Branko Milanovic‘s work on global income growth. Much of what they discuss can be found elsewhere. Including here. But I want to focus for a moment on their claim that
we find that the weak figures for the mature economies as a whole are driven by Japan (reflecting in part its two ‘lost decades’ of growth post-bubble, but primarily due to likely flawed data) and by Eastern European states (with large falls in incomes following the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1988).
Not to suggest that these things did not occur; rather, I find weak the argument that they drive the results. In the figure below, I have estimated the “quasi-nonanonymous” GIC. We see there the growth in real per-capita income among country-deciles sorted by their 1988 income percentiles— with and without China. I have not “reshuffled” incomes when including China, so it is as if Chinese growth had been comparable to its 1988 income peers.

In other words, excess growth in China accounts for nearly all of the fast growth in the 20-70th percentiles. The growth which remains to that half of the world distribution is quite modest— about 1.7 percent per capita annually. True, the more developed 70-99th percentiles seem to have grown somewhat more slowly (1.3 percent per capita annually); even including Japan and Eastern Europe as done here, the severe stagnation which the “elephant” misleadingly suggested does not really exist.

Of course, this latter point was already made clear in Milanovic’s work, as he reminds us. Ultimately, there are two points:
  1. The years 1988-2008 had seen considerable change in what it means to be part of the global middle class.
  2. Outside China, the global 10-99th enjoyed only modest growth. To the extent those years saw stagnation among more developed economies, it extended to most of the world. Except China.

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